Originally Published: 12 July 2010
Sam and Max. A partnership that stands the test of time. They’re always together, like Ant and Dec, or Bill and Ben. It’s hard to imagine how one would survive without the other. How one would soldier on if his good buddy was lost; how he would cope if, say, someone tore open his head and ripped out his brain. It’d be fun to find out though, right? Right!
That’s what happens here, at the start of the third episode of the latest Sam & Max series. Fresh from saving their forefathers and solving the riddle of the Sphunx, Sam turns to find his good buddy, Max a little bit less hyperactive than normal, the top of his head flapping gently in the breeze. Unsurprisingly, then, the start of the episode is a lot darker than those that have gone before as Sam strips down to his shirtsleeves to bring justice to the streets and the brain back to his little buddy.
Capturing the Film Noir vibe, They Stole Max’s Brain twists the normal dialogue tree when playing as Sam allowing you to coerce, threaten or charm the truth from your suspects as you try and find who has half-inched the brain. This sees you visit certain characters to try and seek out their lies and uncover the truth. It’s a definite change of direction, and definitely brings a darker tone to the comedy as you see how far Sam is willing to go for his little buddy.
The episode rounds up characters old, new and previously incarcerated in the Penal Zone, as the series hits its middle act – as the story progresses you’re pulled in further, genuinely wanting to know how the series is set to end – with characters re-appearing and plot twists a-plenty, it’s a sure-fire bet that Telltale have got one or two aces up their sleeves.
Graphically the game captures the dark feel of the story remarkably well. The early section, with Max’s head flapping around is slightly unsettling – not in a bad way, but because it’s a massive change from the knock-around slapstick brightness you’re used to. Sam’s a lot grizzlier, a look captured purely by removing his jacket, while all the action takes place in seedy, dimly lit alleyways. It all lends to the atmosphere of the game, and as changes of pace go, it’s a brilliant touch. It’s not long, however, before things start to return to normal and the usual wacky Sam & Max style creeps back into the proceedings, while still maintaining the slightly sinister dark undertones. It’s a masterpiece of atmospheric story-telling and it’s pulled off with aplomb.
The third episode of Sam and Max and it’s a homage to Film Noir. It’s atmospheric, it’s funny, it’s raining. It’s everything you want a gritty cop drama starring a dog and a rabbity thing to be. The middle act of this season is, I think, the best yet. I can’t wait to see how it plays out.